[tabi] Article: Williams, Baxley bridge gap to work for blind services

  • From: Lighthouse of the Big Bend <lighthousebigbend@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: tabi <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 28 Mar 2011 10:38:56 -0400

Williams, Baxley bridge gap to work for blind services

With the exuberance of a typical 9-year-old, Alan Williams ignored the
rules and ran full speed through the house — only to slam face-first
into an open closet door.
Four days in Tallahassee Memorial Hospital wearing an eye patch saved
the vision in his damaged eye.
Decades later, the close call has thrust the young African-American
liberal Democrat from Tallahassee into the same obscure House club as
Dennis Baxley, a middle-aged, white, ultra-conservative Republican
from Ocala who until recently worked as executive director of the
Christian Coalition.
Few legislators could be further apart on the political spectrum. No
two legislators — both members of the Vision Caucus — could be more
dedicated to preserving services for the blind and visually impaired.
"I had an incident when I was a child, I have a friend whose child is
visually impaired and my mother has been fighting glaucoma since
1980," Williams said.
This year, Williams is handing out legislative business cards printed
in Braille. He is sponsoring a bill that would encourage the rest of
the Legislature to do the same.
"If we're going to make government more transparent, we're going to
have to make it transparent for everyone," he said.
Baxley and his wife, Ginette, raised an adopted son, Jeffrey, who lost
his vision as an infant. Navigating a complicated system of
rehabilitative services, and grateful for the success they brought his
son, Baxley founded the caucus in 2005.
When the powerful committee chairman isn't championing gun rights or
anti-abortion legislation, he is working quietly behind the scenes
with advocates to protect the Division of Blind Services, an arm of
the Department of Education.
This year, as the Legislature struggles with a $3.7-billion budget
shortfall, Baxley and his fellow caucus members have their work cut
out for them.
On Thursday, House leaders put the final touches on an education
spending proposal that would slash K-12 spending nearly 10 percent and
cut $800,000 from the division.

The division serves 36,000 blind and visually impaired Floridians and
gets most of its nearly $40-million budget from the federal
government. An $800,000 cut may seem comparatively modest, but
advocates say it would seriously threaten a program that serves about
1,000 blind babies a year.
Blind babies, and another program that serves blind and visually
impaired seniors, would be most at risk, advocates say, because they
get most of their funding from state general revenue.
Baxley winces at the thought.
"Of course, these are times when every program is being asked what it
can give, not what it can take," Baxley said. "But blind babies ... As
caucus members, we're just going to have to hold our position and see
what we can do."
The Senate also would cut education spending, but does not propose
cutting the division. Gov. Rick Scott's budget proposal, which calls
for $5 billion in spending cuts, also holds the division harmless.
"If $450,000 was cut from the state's Blind Babies program, it would
translate into 180 unfunded babies. A similar amount of unfunded
adults/seniors would result from a $450,000 cut," said Skip Koch,
executive director of the Florida Association of Agencies Serving the
Blind. "We encourage the acceptance and passage of the Senate's
A spokeswoman for House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, said it's
too early to sound the alarm.
"It's only the third week of session," Betta said. "What the speaker
is telling people about individual budget items is not to panic."
Cannon, whose brother is an ophthalmologist, was at one time a member
of the caucus.
House Democratic Leader Ron Saunders of Tavernier said the threat to
the program proves that Republicans aren't just looking to trim fat
from the budget.
"This says a lot about their priorities," Saunders said. "We're not
just talking about laying off a bunch of bureaucrats, we're talking
about blind babies."
Williams shares the sentiment.
"You have to understand that when you make these kinds of cuts now, it
has a bigger impact," Williams said. "The counties and community
organizations that share the cost of these services don't have any
But he also acknowledges a growing respect for Baxley and his work
with the vision caucus. Williams is holding out hope that the division
will be preserved.
"Are there some issues that we are going to be very far apart on?
Certainly," Williams said. "But there are some issues that my wife and
I don't agree on."

Lighthouse of the Big Bend
Guiding People Through Vision Loss
3071 Highland Oaks Terrace
Tallahassee, FL 32301
(850) 942-3658
Check out the TABI resource web page at http://acorange.home.comcast.net/TABI
and please make suggestions for new material.

if you'd like to unsubscribe you can do so through the freelists.org web 
interface, or by sending an email to the address tabi-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject.

Other related posts:

  • » [tabi] Article: Williams, Baxley bridge gap to work for blind services - Lighthouse of the Big Bend